Best of the Fest: The Films at Fantastic Fest ’14


Preston Barta & Cole Clay // Critic

We plundered through the crowded docket of films that were on the schedule at Fantastic Fest last week to bring you our picks for the films you need to be on the lookout for in the coming months. Some of these films already have their release dates confirmed, while others may take longer than expected.

Without further ado these are the best and worst of Fantastic Fest 2014!


Of the 25+ films that we saw, one of the biggest standouts was the incredibly effective Australian horror film THE BABADOOK. The film follows Amelia (a knockout Essie Davis), a depressed mother who thought her biggest issue was her son’s violent outbursts. Well, that was before ‘Mr. Babadook,’ a ghostly figure who you just have to see to believe.

Most horror films these days’ climax happens somewhere in the middle and loses momentum afterwards to where everything that follows doesn’t have the same effect (think INSIDIOUS, which is, nevertheless, a decent horror movie). But in THE BABADOOK, there is comic relief brilliantly placed throughout to bring you down from your own climax just so they get another opportunity to make you fear up and fall once more. First-time feature director Jennifer Kent understands the psychology behind tension and builds suspense through mere scene construction.

The scares, the pacing, sound design and camera work all lend to the film’s high standing, bringing messed up to a whole new level. It’s spectacular. (Hopefully distribution companies in the U.S. pick this up soon, otherwise it may be late next year until American audiences can finally see it.)


It should be noted that this is Sweden’s official submission for Best Foreign Language film at next year’s Academy Awards. Yes, it does set the gold standard for foreign films this year, but Ruben Östlund not-quite comedy, not-quite drama hybrid takes an insightful perspective into the implosive effects of the male ego.

Johannes Kuhnke lets his performance slowly unravel as Tomas, a privileged businessman plagued with entitlement. His wife Ebba, played by Lisa Loven Kongsli, is the brains of the operation, as she ponders her husband’s place in their model family after he leaves them high and dry in a time of need.

Östlund manages the marital tensions and poses societal questions that translate into passive aggressive hilarity.


It’s difficult to be an expert on New Zealand films when the cannon is limited to hobbits and wizards. Be that as it may, HOUSEBOUND is a great jumping off point for those who are craving a bit of irreverence from the Kiwis.

Gerard Johnstone keeps the deadpan humor rolling as we follow Kiley (Morgana O’Reilly), a felon forced under house arrest with her mother (Rima Te Wiata) in a haunted, old bed and breakfast.

This film uses its sense of timing to great effect for comedy and horror alike. HOUSEBOUND is a mish-mash of a film that echoes a grotesque Scooby-Doo mystery, minus the stoner dog. Newcomer Johnstone created a film riddled with red herrings that will keep genre fans pleased and the comedic elements buzzing.

it_follows_xlgIT FOLLOWS

David Robert Mitchell’s second film takes an entirely plausible occurrence such as an STD and instead of getting a few pesky bumps you get a supernatural entity calculating your every move. IT FOLLOWS plays a waiting game that most genre fare neglects to revel in, and while still relying on a few jump scares, it’s what you don’t see that is utterly terrifying.

If Mitchell stripped this disturbing piece of cinema of all its horror elements it would remain a compelling hang-out film about the insignificance of days wasted in suburbia. Mitchell understands that the pockets of waiting are the most terrifying aspects of horror. In fact, these bored teens delight in the chance to get off the couch despite the bone-chilling circumstances.

IT FOLLOWS is a retroactive piece of filmmaking and instead of winking at this fact, Mitchell respectfully tips his cap to the classics that preceded this fantastic little horror film.

lost_soul_the_doomed_journey_of_richard_stanleys_island_of_dr_moreauLOST SOUL – THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU

Richard Stanley  emerged in the early 90s as one of the great genre directors, producing such great works as HARDWARE (1990) and DUST DEVIL (1992). After his success and recognition with those two films, Stanley took on a big budget film – the adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1996).

Stanley penned the script and was set to direct, but after Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer came on board, bringing their egos and big ideas to alter the script, Stanley was forced to leave by the studio. Because, who fires Brando and Kilmer over the director?

So, what did they do? They hired a new director (John Frankenheimer) and the script ran wild, ultimately leading to one of the biggest flops of the 90s.

This terrific documentary, and one of the best movies of the years (it just may make our top 10), gives us the 411 on what really happened on that set. The result is absolutely bananas: script changes galore, fights, witchcraft –

Rating: ☆☆☆½

Rating: ☆☆☆½

some crazy stuff unfolds. It’s like reading the posts on Facebook of that one friend you keep as your friend just because they bicker and makes you feel better about yourself. LOST SOUL is entertaining to boot!


NIGHTCRAWLER, about a freelance crime journalist, is a haunting movie with a stilted atmosphere. Great character studies punctuated by violent action scenes keep the audience immersed in this gripping film. Some powerful performances (especially Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo), stylish direction (Dan Gilroy) and intricate plotting, complete this whirlwind of near-perfection.

Honorable Mentions:


Worst of the Fest:


About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.